New Yorker Cartoonists Remember Gahan Wilson; The Monday Tilley Watch, The New Yorker Issue Of December 2, 2019; Library Of Congress Interview With Thurber Expert, Michael Rosen; Meet The Artist (1943): William Gropper; The Tilley Watch Online, November 18-22, 2019

New Yorker Cartoonists Remember Gahan Wilson

The  New Yorker cartoonist community is quite small. Our numbers are great enough to field a softball team, but not enough to fill your average sized auditorium.  Whether we knew Gahan well, or very little, or not at all, we know his work, and feel the loss of one of our family.

What follows are a number of Gahan’s colleagues sharing their thoughts on the man and his work.

Edward Koren: Whenever a unique visionary and talented  and irreplaceable artist like Gahan leaves us, we are further diminished in assessing our own lives through his eyes and ears. He was one of the masters of our curious art form, and we all learned from him, as a benchmark of imagination, to follow the example of his path when we showed up at our own work each day .

Christopher Weyant: For my generation of cartoonists, Gahan was our Charles Addams. His dark, macabre, parallel universe seemed much more interesting than the one I occupied growing up in New Jersey. His artistic talent was breathtaking. As a kid, I first discovered Gahan’s cartoons in National Lampoon, and later, Playboy and the New Yorker. Although Gahan is known for his one-panel gags, I was a huge fan of his cartoon strip, “Nuts” that ran in the Lampoon. Growing up, my family moved often. Through all of the moves, one of the few things I held onto was a notebook in which I had pasted all of my favorite cartoons – “Nuts” being my favorite. In that strip, Gahan had somehow captured what it felt like to see the world through a kid’s eyes, or at least, how it looked to me. It had an irreverence and honesty that made me want to be a cartoonist. Years later, getting to know him was a true thrill and we talked about those strips and how much they meant to me. Gahan said that he was that boy in the strip, and joked, “but aren’t we all?” He’ll be missed.

Ellis Rosen: I never met him but I loved his work so much. In 2015 when I decided to draw cartoons I went through all the NYer cartoonists I could find and studied them.  Wilson was the first one I got hooked on. I even foolishly tried to draw like him before quickly realizing that was impossible. I have tons of drawings attempting (and failing) to be as wonderfully textured, studied, playful, and as devious as his were.  In a field full of distinctive voices his must be the most unique.

Robert Leighton: Long before I knew of Gahan’s single-panel work in The New Yorker, let alone Playboy, I loved his endlessly varied work in National Lampoon. In 1973 I encountered “Strange Beliefs of Children,” one of the many pieces he wrote and illustrated for that magazine. I can still remember (no, reverse that—I cannot forget) his illustration for the belief that “Swinging over the bar is to be avoided at all costs for it will turn the swinger inside out.” Think a pink mass of flesh, with ribs and eyeballs, still in the shape of a child, sitting on a playground swing and still clutching the chains with inside-out hands.

Gahan frequently, and masterfully, drew on his inner child. In my few conversations with him, I saw that he’d never lost a childlike awe of the world; even his macabre observations didn’t seem to come from the eyes of a jaded adult but rather reflected a kid’s shock that life is indeed nasty, brutish, and short.

For me, his masterpiece was the sustained comic strip for the Lampoon, “Nuts.” Gahan honestly depicted the way the world confounds and disappoints when you’re a powerless kid: seeing a 3-D movie that’s scarier than you anticipated, visiting a surgical supply store, getting the gift of a pet chameleon that’s dead in the morning. Just like its ostensible model, “Peanuts,” the adults were always off-screen; you never saw them (except their gnarled fingers and unless they were dead).

In 2003 Gahan spoke to Comic Book Artist magazine about how he mined his own life experiences to write Nuts. “The Great Joke in life,” he said, “is that there are no secrets; we all share a common experience.”

He was one of my very favorites. So long, Gahan Wilson.

Joe Dator: The impossibly great cartoonist Gahan Wilson left us last week. Long before I ever ventured into the New Yorker, I grew up reading his cartoons in Playboy and the National Lampoon. I met Gahan many times at the New Yorker’s old Times Square office, and he was always very kind to me, regarding me as a peer, though he was a towering giant. One time I was coming out of the cartoon editor’s office after a particularly good meeting, and, seeing Gahan was waiting to go after me, I said “Good luck.” As if he needed any of that from me!

Peter Kuper: I can’t begin to express the impact Gahan’s work had on me. My mind exploded the first time I saw his art in a collection from Playboy — long before I was legally allowed to get the magazine. Playboy published it, but the cover image was the opposite of sexy (and the woman at the drugstore counter allowed me to buy it without embarrassment). It was a soldier standing in the middle of an apocalyptic battlefield, with the caption, “I think I won!”

Images like this formed my idea of what a gag cartoon could be. Chas Addams on LSD! He brought a unique vision to everything he drew. His work got in my blood stream and changed my world view. I return to his books again and again to be reminded of the possibilities of this form: humor with a gut punch. Horror that brings peels of laughter.

I feel honored to have crossed paths with him and more honored that he acquiesced to write the introduction to my book Speechless back in 2000. He is a giant of cartooning and may his beanstalk ever grow in all of us.

 

Ken Krimstein: Before I moved back to the Chicago area from New York City, I used to run into Gahan in the waiting room at The New Yorker. When I told him I was moving to Evanston he would recount stories of his childhood there, and his days at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, seeing Basil Rathbone almost fly off the “L” train, and more. I reached out to Lisa Wainwright, then head of the School of Art Institute where I was teaching, and suggested they give Gahan an honorary degree. She was more than thrilled. When I asked Gahan if he’d be interested, he said, “I love honors,” or something like that. Anyhow, a few months later, there he was, on the stage at Millennium Park, dressed in full regalia — cap and gown —  as the President of the School, Walter Massey, placed a gigantic medallion around his neck and shook his hand. Gahan then turned to the audience, grabbed one end of the silk ribbon holding the medallion and hoisted it over his right shoulder, canting his head to the left, lolling out his tongue, bulging his eyes, and transforming a solemn moment into a priceless Gahan gag. The crowd loved it. 

Liza Donnelly: Gahan and I would run into each other from time to time in the offices of The New Yorker. He was a sweet gentleman — our interactions were lovely; I always enjoyed talking to him. Gahan did not seem totally at ease with chit-chat, but he was good at it, peppering what he said with humorous anecdotes and oddities. We would laugh at the absurdity of it all. Once for a public event, I was tasked with putting together and moderating a panel of cartoonists, and I invited Gahan to be on the panel. He clearly loved cartooning, as witnessed by the stories he told.  While in one sense it’s clear that Gahan’s work is uniquely Gahan, I never ever saw in him any of the macabre one often sees in his cartoons. In the actual person that I knew I only experienced kindness.

Mick Stevens: I only met the man once or twice, but I’ve been seeing his work since I was a baby cartoonist. He and his work were very lovable and inspiring.

Felipe Galindo: I first saw Gahan’s cartoons in my native Mexico, when I was a teenager. I found a book of his cartoons for Playboy and what struck me was that they were not about sex or women, but rather they featured ordinary characters whose lives had taken a surreal or ghoulish turn.
After I moved to New York, I met Gahan at The New Yorker cartoonists lounge while we waited to show our cartoons to the editor. He was gentle, smart and kind, always with a smile on his face.
We developed a “weekly” friendship and shared stories at our cartoonist lunch at Pergola’s.
Once, he invited me to an exhibit of German art from the Weimar era at the Metropolitan Museum; we both loved art and had a great conversation while contemplating the paintings.
Years later, he kindly wrote a quote to be published in my cartoon book, I will always treasure his generosity.
His work was sweet and grim, his cartoons and illustrations were always fun and fresh, and his captions were almost poetic. His National Lampoon’s Nuts strip was a gem.
A priceless piece of advice he gave me (and I guess many others) was to be patient. Cartooning is like fishing he said, let small ideas go, and focus on catching the big ones.
Gracias y adiós, amigo Gahan!

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The Cover: An arty cover.  Here’s a Q&A with Kadir Nelson, the artist.

The Cartoonists:

The Cartoons: you can see a slideshow of the latest cartoons here (scroll down a bit).

Noted: the lead cartoon is by Gahan Wilson, his passing mentioned on the Contributors page.

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The Tis A Pity Department:

The above classic design by Rea Irvin disappeared in the Spring of 2017, replaced by…gasp!… a redraw.  Read about it here

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Library Of Congress Interview Of Interest: Thurber Expert, Michael Rosen

From The Library of Congress, November 22, 2019,  “‘Humor At First Sight’ as James Thurber’s Art is celebrated for his 125th birthday”

— this interview with Michael Rosen, who has edited a number of Thurber-centric books including the latest, A Mile and A Half of Lines: The Art Of James Thurber Thurber *

*full disclosure: both my wife, Liza Donnelly, and I contributed to the book.

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Meet The Artist (1943): William Gropper

Another in a series of self portraits of New Yorker artists included in the Meet The Artist catalog published by the M.H. de Young Memorial Museum in 1943.

Mr. Gropper’s entry on the Spill‘s A-Z. The small red top-hatted icon beside his bolded name indicates that  Mr. Gropper is a member of the Spill‘s One Club, meaning he had but one cartoon published in The New Yorker during his lifetime:

William Gropper (Self portrait from The Business of Cartooning, 1939) Born, December 3, 1897, NYC. Died, January 6, 1977, Manhasset, NY. 1 drawing, April 11, 1942. Quote:”I owe a great deal to the east side of New York. I was hit on the head with a rock in a gangfight…that’s how I became an artist.” [Quote from catalogue, Meet the Artist, 1943]. For a brief bio of Gropper “the workingman’s protector” visit: http://specialcollections.wichita.edu/

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The Tilley Watch Online, November 18-22, 2019

A delayed end of week listing of New Yorker artists who contributed to newyorker.com, including The Daily Cartoon and/or Daily Shouts

The Daily Cartoon: J.A.K., Brendan Loper, Lila Ash, Sara Lautman, and Robert Leighton.

Daily Shouts: Julia Wertz, Jeremy Nguyen, Emily Flake (with Marissa Maciel), and Olivia de Recat (with Julia Edelman).

All of the above, and more, can be found here.

Barry Blitt’s Kvetchbook.

and a Postscript: The Beautifully Macabre Cartoons Of Gahan Wilson.

 

Robert Leighton’s New Book; The Monday Tilley Watch, The New Yorker Issue Of September 2, 2019; Today’s Daily Cartoonist & Cartoon

Robert Leighton’s New Book: Just out from Workman, Puzzlelopedia, by long-time New Yorker cartoonist and puzzle meister, Robert Leighton (with fellow Puzzability team members Amy Goldstein and Mike Shink). Spill visitors might remember this piece on one of Mr. Leighton’s classic New Yorker drawings (below).

Here’s Mr. Leighton’s entry on the Spill‘s A-Z:

Robert Leighton Born May 23, 1960, Long Island, NY. A puzzle writer as well as a cartoonist, Leighton is one of three partners who founded the puzzle-writing company, Puzzability. See: The New Yorker Book of Cartoon Puzzles and Games (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2006), authored by Puzzability. Mr. Leighton’s New Yorker work: 2002 – .  Website: https://www.robert-leighton.com/

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                   The Monday Tilley Watch, The New Yorker Issue Of September 2, 2019

                         The Cover: Here’s Kadir Nelson on his latest cover (titled “Heat Wave”).

                         The Cartoonists & Cartoons:

Maggie Larson’s name isn’t listed above, so I’m mentioning her here as she contributes a two-column wide color Sketchpad drawing titled “The Subway Valley Floor.” Eighteen pages later is a  full page color Liana Finck Sketchbook contribution,“Some Relationship Models” (Ms. Finck’s name appears on the Table of Contents).

There are but nine single panel cartoon contributions in this issue (I think most would agree that Ms. Larson’s and Ms. Finck’s drawings fall outside of that classification by virtue of their assigned haedings). Illustrations, as has been the case in modern times, occupy more graphic real estate than the cartoons.  There are sixteen of them (including photographs), including four full pages.

                     Rea Irvin’s Talk Masthead: Switched out in May of 2017 for a redrawn version, Mr. Irvin’s iconic Talk masthead (shown below) sadly continues to collect dust. Read about it here.

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Today’s Daily Cartoonist & Cartoon

Tim Hamilton on G7.  Mr. Hamilton began contributing to The New Yorker in 2016. Visit his website here.

 

 

 

The Tilley Watch: The New Yorker 94th Anniversary Issue; Today’s New Yorker Daily Cartoonist: Julia Suits

The very first issue.

The above cover does not appear on the New Yorker‘s 94th Anniversary issue; note the date and price. I’ve posted it — the very first New Yorker cover — because sentimental me misses seeing Rea Irvin’s iconic curiously curious Eustace Tilley, dressed in his oddly compelling finery. He hasn’t shown up since 2011 (below)…that seems like such a long time for him to be away. Sometimes it’s good to go back, before, you know, you drift too far from shore (to read about Kadir Nelson’s Tilley-inspired take-off on the cover of the current issue, go here).

The 86th anniversary issue


The Cartoonists:

The Cartoons:

It has made my week seeing George Booth’s drawing in the issue (p.47). It’s classic Booth. And no small thing, it inhabits the perfect space on the page — it is where it should be and it looks as it should look. And… it looks great. I could, and will, say the same for Edward Koren’s drawing (p.80).

Two of our cartoon gods delivering the goods, continuing to share their worlds, a half century or more since they began contributing to The New Yorker (Mr. Koren began in 1962, Mr. Booth in 1969).

Of interest to the weedsy cartoon folks: there is not just one caption-less cartoon in the issue — there are three (Seth Fleishman, Will McPhail, and Ed Steed). By caption-less, I should clarify that I mean a cartoon that appears without assistance from words in a box, or a title, or a thought balloon.

Finally, I end as I began: by mentioning the work of The New Yorker artist Rea Irvin. His beautiful masthead — the one that ran for most of the magazine’s 94 years but went missing in the Spring of 2017 (read about it here) is also still out of sight this anniversary week (well, two weeks, as it’s a double issue). It appears here once again, as it always does on Mondays, until someone tells me to cut it out (so to speak) or until it reappears in the magazine (and wouldn’t that be great).

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Today’s Daily Cartoon

Today’s Daily cartoon (Trumpish, of course) is by Julia Suits, who began contributing to The New Yorker in 2006. Link here to her website.

The Monday Tilley Watch, the New Yorker Issue of September 10, 2018; Cartoon Happenings At The New Yorker Festival

 “The Style Issue”  with a Kadir Nelson cover — the second Nelson cover in three weeks. It’s titled “Savoring Summer” (and again, I question why the New Yorker‘s covers need to be titled. Shouldn’t covers speak for themselves, so to speak? This cover certainly does). 

The cartoons:

Thinking there’d be a bevy of cartoonists in this mid-September issue (last week’s issue had fourteen), it was a surprise finding nine single panel cartoons this week (there’s a multi-panel “Sketchbook” by Roz Chast).  

Lately the Monday Tilley Watch has moved away from looking at every cartoon in each issue, but that doesn’t mean each and every cartoon in each and every issue doesn’t receive my undivided attention. Often I look at a cartoon like I eat popcorn.  But sometimes I linger on a particular drawing, savoring the art, or the caption (if there is a caption); in the best of times, I linger because I’m happy to be looking at something that works, that really works.  Other times I linger out of puzzlement — wondering what I’ve missed about the drawing — how, to my eyes, it went awry (or how my cultural antenna have failed me). It is far more exciting to come across a drawing that soars than one that fails.  Take for instance Joe Dator’s three part Beauty and the Beast cartoon in this new issue. I believe the drawing hits the high bar.  It’s drawn well (it reminds me of Lee Lorenz’s confident energetic art), and it measures up to Peter Arno’s characterization of a good cartoon, landing a one-two punch. A Spill round of applause is in order.

Some impressions from the issue:  Frank Cotham’s cartoon — it leads off the issue, sitting in a good-sized space following the Table Of Contents.  I mentioned Mr. Lorenz’s confident drawing; in Mr. Cotham’s quarter century of contributing to the New Yorker, he’s shown no fear in taking on the big picture, and handling it well. Alex Gregory’s line (his drawing is on p.93) is always a welcome sight.  Ed Steed’s bee-hive wielding doctor drawing (p.55) seems like a follow-up to Zach Kanin’s memorable “I can feel the baby kicking” cartoon from 2008.

The Caption Contest:

Cartoon caption contest drawings aren’t mentioned here much, but I did note that Mick Stevens’ drawing this week echoes one of mine (captioned as you see) published in The New Yorker, August 23, 1982.

Finally, let us not forget Rea Irvin’s missing classic Talk Of The Town masthead. I sometimes picture it propped up in a closest someplace in the magazine’s offices, waiting to be rediscovered and returned to its proper place. Until that time, if it ever comes, here it is:

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Cartoon Happenings at The New Yorker Festival

Held October 5, 6, and 7th. So far, here’s what’s up at the festival, cartoon-wise:

Saturday, the 6th: Sh!t Show: A Parenting Comedy Revue (with, among others, Emily Flake, and Roz Chast).

Sunday, the 7th: Cartoons & Coffee (with Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell and Farley Katz)

Here’s the homepage for the Festival

 

 

 

The Monday Tilley Watch, The New Yorker Issue of August 27th, 2018

  Kadir Nelson‘s cover (a tribute to Aretha Franklin) was posted last week.  Not mentioned here at the time (but noted on the New Yorker‘s Table of Contents): the image was inspired by Charles W. White’s Folksinger. 

The new issue’s “Fall Preview” accounts for the abundance of arts ads and illustrations. 

The cartoons:

Now we’re talkin’: sixteen cartoons in this issue vs last week’s nine.  A number of the sixteen cartoons stand out for various reasons. Two of them (I won’t single them out) are beyond me. Not long ago I would’ve emailed Jack Ziegler to explain them to me. It was always comforting when Jack didn’t understand a drawing either. Often he’d respond with a variation of, “I don’t know what the hell it means.”

 Now for some others that stood out (these I understand): Seth Fleishman‘s mirror ball drawing cements his reputation as the New Yorker‘s mirror ball guy. Funny drawing. Also very funny: Joe Dator‘s “hunny” sniffing Pooh airport scenario. And then there’s David Borchart‘s sea-faring koala drawing. Oh my my my. I mentioned Jack Ziegler before. I think Jack would’ve loved these drawings — they’re wonderfully in his ballpark of way-out-there. A Spill round of applause.

A thought here about the placement of every cartoon in the issue: none seemed pressed for space, in need of breathing room. Victoria Roberts doctor’s office drawing (p.69) and Ellis Rosen‘s (p.42) are good examples. The reader can really enjoy the fine drawing going on in these pieces (and in others).

This issue includes the debut New Yorker cartoon by Caitlin Cass. Ms. Cass is the seventeenth new cartoonist brought in since cartoon editor, Emma Allen was appointed in the Spring of 2017. Ms. Cass’s style — mostly the way she handles faces — reminds me of a New Yorker cover artist from the Golden Age: Christina Malman.  Oddly enough, while looking through Ms. Malman’s twenty-four covers for the magazine I came across one (shown below) thematically linked to Ms. Cass’s drawing of children looking at art in a museum.

A final thought before Rea Irvin’s classic missing masthead shows up at the end of this post: I’m wondering if Emma Hunsinger‘s funny caption for her drawing on page 77 would’ve also worked if the word “aren’t” was “are”…and if that’s so — if it’s so how often it happens in cartoon captions that a word completely flipped can still work with the drawing. In this case, substituting “are” for “aren’t” would radically change the intent. Ms. Hunsinger’s use of the word “aren’t” suggests the parents are concerned their child’s behavior is unusual. By using “are” the parents would instead be hopeful that their child’s behavior might make for a viral video.

For the record, here is the list of cartoonists in this issue:

And now, as promised, the missing Irvin masthead.

 — See you next week